I know what you're thinking- last week I wrote that we were on a juice cleanse, and this week I'm suggesting you make caramels with heavy cream, sugar, and corn syrup (pretty much the opposite of a cleanse). But I have a good reason. Kind of.
A friend made a batch of caramels which turned out with a lovely soft consistency, but which had to be stored in the refrigerator to prevent them from becoming unmanageably soft and goopy. She asked me if I could improve the consistency and make them a bit more shelf stable, and while I had never made caramel candies, I couldn't resist giving it a go.
It took me some two attempts and some tweaking to get this recipe right, but the end result is a lovely firm caramel that melts into a chewy delightful texture in your mouth. They're firm enough to be stored outside the fridge but soft enough to become lovely and chewy in your mouth.
I also added balsamic vinegar and smoked sea salt because I can never resist the urge to take a straightforward recipe and make it more complex. Luckily the addition of vinegar just takes an extra moment of prep work at the beginning, and it is so, so worth it.
All of my taste test subjects loved the addition of balsamic, though some of them couldn't identify what the flavor they were enjoying was, exactly. 2/3C of Balsamic may sound like a ton of vinegar to add to candy, but after reducing it's only 1/4C, and some of that is inevitably lost to the sides of your reducing pan, the flavor is very mild. In the end, the flavor is a bit of tart or tanginess that cuts the sweetness of the caramel just the right amount.
I didn't own a candy thermometer prior to making these caramels. In the past, when making candies, I had always used the water test to determine when I had reached hard crack stage, but after reading that David Lebovitz reccomends just buying a grocery store brand cheapo candy thermometer, I picked one up at my grocery store to give it a go.
It turns out the cheap thermometers at Mr. Lebovitz's Parisian grocery store must be a sight better than mine because my Key-Foods-purchased candy thermometer was about 30 degrees off, resulting in a first batch of caramels that never quite solidified or held shape, the exact opposite of what I was going for.
So I melted down that first batch with some extra cream, and now we have a pint of the most ludicrously rich and delicious caramel sauce I have ever tried. The next day I headed to Sur La Table in the morning and bought the cheapest candy thermometer they had. While it was three times the price of my Key Foods thermometer, it was still only $15 and is blissfully accurate. This batch of caramels reached the exact texture I was hoping for. They're initially firm, but when placed in your mouth they soften to a lovely, chewy consistency. I would call that $15 well spent. Enjoy!
Balsamic Salted Caramels
Makes approx. 60 1/2" caramels
2/3 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
2/3 C Heavy Cream
Heaping 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1/2 C corn syrup
1 Cup Sugar
4 tbsp butter
Line a 9inch loaf pan, or other small pan with parchment paper and spray parchment paper with cooking spray. Set aside. If using molds instead, spray with cooking spray and set aside.
First, reduce your vinegar. Pour vinegar into a small pan and heat over high, swirling or stirring occasionally until reduced down to approximately 1/4C. Set aside.
In a small saucepan combine cream, 1/2 tsp salt, and butter, and heat over low heat, stirring, until butter melts and the mixture begins to bubble lightly. Turn off and cover to keep warm.
In a large saucepan, larger than you probably think you need (about 4-5qt), add the sugar and corn syrup. Heat over medium heat and stir to combine. Once all the sugar as been moistened by the corn syrup, stop stirring and clip a candy thermometer in to your pan. Make sure the syrup is covering the bulb of the thermometer, but that the bulb is not touching the bottom of the pan.
Cook sugar/corn syrup mixture until it reaches 310 degrees, or hard crack stage, turn down the heat a bit and continue to cook until the candy reaches 340 degrees. Keep an eye on it the whole time to prevent burning, and gently swirl or stir to break up any hot spots.
When candy reaches 340 degrees, turn off heat and add the balsamic vinegar, and the cream/salt/butter mixture. Stir gently until smooth and well combined.
Return to heat, and occasionally gently stir or swirl to avoid hotspots, until candy reaches 260 degrees fahrenheit, or hard ball stage. Remove from heat.
Pour caramel into prepared pan or molds, and allow to cool ten minutes, then sprinkle the 1/4tsp coarse salt over the top of the caramel.
Allow to cool fully before removing caramel from pan. Removing too soon will cause your caramels to spread and lose shape. Give it at least 2-3 hours.
Using a sharp knife cut the caramels into small squares. I've read running the knife through the flame of a gas burner will help, but I tried this and found it just made the knife end up sticky after every cut. The caramels will be firm so use a sharp knife and a steady hand.
Wrap cut caramels in parchment or wax paper as otherwise they will stick together. If stored in a sealed container these should be good for one month, but I guarantee you'll eat them all by then.